AUGUSTA, Ga. – Tiger Woods won his 15th major championship.
The sheer depth and breadth of that sentence sends shivers down the spines of fans and detractors of Woods alike. It is a sentence that many thought never would be uttered.
What started as a pipedream when Woods made his return to professional golf in late 2017 after a fourth back surgery earlier that year has grown into a reality during the past 12 months.
Just as a fine wine needs time to breathe, Woods’ victory Sunday in the Masters might need some time to comprehend fully. Or more appropriately, what his triumph means for golf.
The fact that it has taken almost 11 years for Woods to win his 15th major or 14 years to capture another green jacket is what he and golf fans are celebrating, and for good reason. Even the most optimistic among them – including Woods – thought that a return to competition would be unlikely, at best (scores).
At the Golf Writers Association of America’s annual dinner here Wednesday, Woods said in accepting the Ben Hogan Award that until the past 12 months, he thought that his professional golf career was over. Time, surgery and perseverance helped Woods rejuvenate a broken body and spirit.
At 43, Woods looks similar to his physique from 20 years ago, albeit a bit more muscular. Only when he removes his cap does he reveal that he’s no longer a young man.
So now Woods has done the unthinkable. Is there an encore, or was this merely a one-off finale?
To look ahead, first look at the final leaderboard at the Masters: co-runner-up Dustin Johnson, who returned to No. 1 in the Official World Golf Ranking; Brooks Koepka, with three major titles, was a couple of putts from a fourth and joined Johnson and emerging talent Xander Schauffele in second place; former PGA champion Jason Day, who made a significant move despite his bad back and tied for fifth; and Francesco Molinari, the British Open champion who opened the door for Woods with two double bogeys on the back nine, eventually tying for fifth.
Woods will have a laundry list of formidable players to fend off at the next three majors, but starting with next month’s PGA Championship at Bethpage Black on Long Island and followed by the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach, he will play two of them at sites where he has won major titles. In 2002, Woods won the U.S. Open at Bethpage by three shots. In 2000, Woods registered another one of his greatest moments with a 15-shot victory in the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach.
However, Bethpage in the spring likely will not be set up to play as difficult by the PGA of America as the USGA would stage a summertime U.S. Open.
At Pebble Beach, every green has been rebuilt since Woods’ victory. In the 2010 Open, when Woods broke par only once and tied for fourth, Pebble Beach played as hard and fast as any British Open links.
At both sites, any perceived advantage for Woods likely will be negated. Royal Portrush in Northern Ireland, where the British Open will return for the first time since 1951, will benefit only those few Europeans who played the 2012 Irish Open there.
When Jack Nicklaus, at age 46, won the 1986 Masters, he played well down the stretch, surging through openings created by runners-up Tom Kite and Greg Norman and fourth-place Seve Ballesteros.
The next day, no one cared how Nicklaus won, only that he had.
No one cares that Francesco Molinari opened the door for Woods when the Italian’s tee shot found Rae’s Creek on the par-3 12th hole. When Molinari hit into the same body of water in front of the 15th green – just as Ballesteros had done in the final round in 1986 – the door was flung open for Woods.
Woods shouldn’t expect such hospitality at Bethpage or Pebble Beach, but he will find a new generation of competitors who will not fear him. They will be gunning to push him back off of golf’s pinnacle.
It should make the next three major championships very entertaining.
Alex Miceli is the founder and publisher of Morning Read. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @AlexMiceli